President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani could face being called as a witness or even charged with obstruction of justice if he overstepped the mark in his dealings with Paul Manafort’s legal team, according to legal analysts.
Giuliani revealed that the legal teams of both Trump and Manafort were “often” in contact even after the president’s indicted former campaign manager signed a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the Russia investigation.
Manafort authorized his lawyers to give briefings to Trump’s team on what Mueller prosecutors were asking, Giuliani said, giving the president’s defense valuable insight as they prepare to fight back against whatever comes at them in the Russia investigation’s final report.
“This whole odd joint defense agreement between Manafort and the Trump lawyers, that’s a very reckless thing to do. I mean, you just don’t do that when someone’s cooperating,” said Shanlon Wu, the former attorney to Rick Gates, Manafort’s indicted business associate, during a panel discussion on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360° on Wednesday night.
“And the most intriguing aspect of that is, that could convert the lawyers into witnesses. If Trump’s team is telling Manafort, ‘Hey, don’t say this, ease up on that, say something else,’ that is obstruction and they could end up having to testify about that.”
Wu said the situation would “essentially pierce” attorney-client privilege.
In a court filing, Mueller accused Manafort of violating the plea deal by lying repeatedly to the FBI.
Manafort is convicted of multiple counts of fraud, and awaits sentencing. He is also accused of conspiracy against the U.S. by acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government. The plea deal avoided a second trial.
But Manafort says he has only spoken truthfully to investigators who are looking into the extent of Russian interference in American society, and potential collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
Both Mueller and Manafort agree that sentencing should now be brought forward as soon as possible.
Some have speculated that Manafort may be hopeful of a pardon by President Trump and could be attempting to sabotage Mueller’s efforts by withholding key information or misleading investigators.
If that is true, and Trump’s legal team are involved in any such attempt to thwart Mueller, they could face obstruction of justice charges—including Rudy Giuliani.
“They could also convert to defendants themselves…maybe Giuliani,” said CNN legal analyst Laura Coates, who was on the Anderson Cooper 360° panel.
“I don’t know what he’s done. No one really does. But the idea of somebody who’s not the president of the United States maybe dangling a carrot, and influencing, or trying to impede, an investigation—well, that actually could be something that you could go under.
“The jury’s still out on that but it’s a possibility.”
The headline on this story has been updated to clarify that Rudy Giuliani has not been charged.